American Medical Biographies/Beck, Theodric Romeyn

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Beck, Theodric Romeyn (1791–1855)

Theodric Romeyn Beck, alienist and medico-legal expert, was born at Schenectady, New York, April 11, 1791. His mother, a daughter of the Rev. Dr. Derick Romeyn, principal of the Academy of Schenectady, was a lady of rare attainments and great force of character.

Theodric Romeyn Beck entered Union College in 1803, graduated in 1807 at the age of sixteen, and at Albany began the study of medicine under Drs. Low and McClelland. Shortly afterwards he entered the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, receiving there his medical degree in 1811 and thence returning to Albany to practise. He was, however (by reason of too great sympathy with the sick), not so highly successful in practice as he was in authorship, hence at the end of six years he gave up practice entirely.

He married, in 1814, Harriet Caldwell.

In 1815 he was appointed professor of the institutes of medicine and lecturer on medical jurisprudence in the College of Physicians and Surgeons for the Western District, at Fairfield, New York, and in 1817 became principal of the Albany Academy, afterwards, in 1826, lecturer on medical jurisprudence, occasionally holding both the chair of practice and that of materia medica in the same institution.

The year 1829 saw him president of the New York State Medical Society—an honor held for three successive years, and in 1840 he held the professorship of materia medica in the Albany Medical College; in 1842 became one of the managers of the New York State Lunatic Asylum, at Utica; and in 1854, its president. The American Journal of Insanity was edited by him for several years and he was also a copious contributor to medical journals, chiefly on insanity.

His most celebrated book was his "Elements of Medical Jurisprudence," a monumental work which appeared in 1823. At once it attracted the attention of the medico-legal world and has not ceased to be an authority both at home and in Europe. An English edition appeared in 1825—two years after the first American edition, and by the time of the author's decease, four English, one German and five American editions had been issued. Since the author's death, another American, and even a Swedish edition, have been brought forth. At the present moment, copies of Beck's "Medical Jurisprudence," when they appear on the bookseller's shelves, which they do but seldom, are snapped up eagerly. Traill, the great Scotch legal physician, called this treatise, "the best work on the general subject which has appeared in the English language." The famous Guy acknowledges his obligations in a special manner to Beck's learned and elaborate "Elements of Medical Jurisprudence;" and at a later day, Prof. Rudolph A. Witthaus declared this scientific classic "facile princeps among English works on legal medicine … as admirable for scholarly elegance of diction as for profound scientific research."

Dr. Beck was a man of massive build, dark skinned, dark haired, dark eyed and possessed of an extremely gentle and sympathetic manner.

He was a voluminous reader, not only of scientific publications, but also of history, poetry, fiction, and, in fact, of every sort and variety of literature that was sound, sensible, and interesting. He delighted, when at work, to surround himself with great piles of books, whether he happened to need those particular volumes at the time or not, merely from the joy of having his darlings stacked about him.

He was an earnest and active Christian, nor did his ardent faith forsake him when, after a long and painful illness, he died on the nineteenth of November, 1855, at the age of sixty-four.

American Medical Biography, S. D. Gross, Phila., 1861.
Biog. of Emin. Amer. Phys. and Surgs., R. F. Stone, Indianapolis, 1894.
Ann. Med. Soc., County of Albany, 1864, Miss C. E. Van Cortland.
Amer. Jour. Insanity, Utica, N. Y., 1855–1856, vol. xii. Portrait.
Amer. Med. Gazette, N. Y., 1856, vol. vii.
Med. and Surg. Rep., Burlington, N. J., 1856, vol. ix.
N. Y. Jour. of Med., n. s., E. H. Van Dusen, 1856, vol xvi.
Trans. Med. Soc. N. Y., F. H. Hamilton, 1856.
Med. Leg. Jour., 1883–1884, vol. i. Portrait.